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Car reviews - Citroen - C5 - Exclusive Tourer HDi 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth torquey performance, lots of space, gadget laden, diesel economy, smooth performance, great cargo capability striking styling, comfortable interior
Room for improvement
Messy dash design, expensive against some similarly sized Europeans, fixed steering wheel hub’s propensity to catch hands while twirling

23 Sep 2009

SINCE this is all about the latest Citroen wagon, we will start from the business end and work our way forward.

In conclusion, then, the C5 Tourer 2.0 HDi Exclusive – as the badge on the big Cit’s backside suggests – does a decent job in transporting people and their stuff in effortless style.

However, similarly sized wagons such as the Ford Mondeo (our current favourite), Holden Commodore, Mazda6, Subaru Liberty, and Volkswagen Passat are all similarly compelling yet cost at least $15,000 less than the $60,990 that importer Ateco charges.

End of story then … except that we’d still heartily recommend the C5 anyway. And here’s why.

In 2.0 HDi Exclusive trim, the Citroen strikes a chord with a few unique selling features that, collectively, are unavailable elsewhere for the price – such as the French brand’s trademark Hydropneumatic suspension system, for starters.

Add high equipment levels – a role call reveals Xenon headlights, speed limiter cruise control system, powered tail-gate, heated leather seats and a driver’s massage function – and the Citroen suddenly seems like a value buy against costlier luxury Euros such as the Audi A4 Avant, Mercedes C-class, BMW 3 Series and Volvo V70.

Plus, while the closely related Peugeot 407 Touring as well as the ageing Saab 9-3 wagon cost less, the Citroen feels fresher.

It’s a narrow niche but the C5 somehow appears to fill it with flair.

Sharing many architectural elements with the Peugeot, the Touring strikes a more harmonious chord with its handsome proportions and striking detailing. Quite a few heads turned as we wafted past.

Unfortunately, the Citroen also shares much of the 407’s inert feel despite the hydraulic suspension.

Dubbed Hydractive III-Plus, it offers drivers the choice of Comfort or Sport settings, and uses computerised stiffness accumulators to alter the height and firmness of the suspension’s damping properties to provide an adequate balance of comfort and control according to the environment.

One of the big advantages of a hydropneumatic set-up – and this is important to rural buyers – is that on rough roads the suspension automatically rises to improve clearance, and lowers at higher speeds for improved roadholding and aerodynamic flow.

The driver can also alter the C5’s height in four ways for better road clearance or easier loading and unloading – aided by a switch near the inside tailgate area as well as a button in the centre console.

So, not surprisingly, on smooth roads, the C5 does an outstanding job of isolating people from the rigours of the world outside.

In Comfort mode, the suspension seems happiest when plying roads at speed. Even on gravel there is softness to the ride.

But in the inner-urban jungle where potholes, tramlines, broken surfaces and speed humps prevail Comfort loses composure. It seems Sport mode works better here, since the tauter body control that ensues – combined with the general absorption properties of the Hydropneumatic set-up – keep the C5 significantly more settled.

Oddly, we found the ride to be too crashy in Comfort around town, and so resorted to Sport as the city’s default setting.

Another mixed bag is the C5 Touring’s steering, since it is responsive and sufficiently weighted but completely devoid of feedback and feel.

Only when you hurry it through a corner does the steering start to communicate with the driver.

Nevertheless, regardless of the damper settings, a huge amount of grip is to be had from the tyres, while the C5 adopts a flat attitude. Even when you push hard through a turn the result is safe and predictable understeer.

But rushing the Citroen through your favourite hairpins is no fun. And to help ensure this, Citroen sets the electronic nannies to neurotic mode: the stability control switches itself back on from about 40km/h no matter what sport setting you choose.

It’s a shame, because the 100kW 2.0-litre HDi turbo diesel unit – found in Fords as well as other Citroens and Peugeots – is a muted yet relatively revvy engine that does a brilliant job hauling the C5 along at speed with considerable stealth.

Using an Aisin six-speed automatic gearbox, the Citroen quickly gathers momentum after a moment’s hesitation – a typical turbo diesel trait – and then motion just keeps on building.

So strong and linear is this powerplant’s performance delivery that a wave of torque keeps the car barrelling along effortlessly from about 40km/h to beyond 180km/h. In overboost, up to 340Nm is on hand.

Then, of course, there is the HDi’s excellent fuel economy payoff to remember. Ours hovered in the early 9.0L/100km mark even after some excitable driving, and no matter how much stuff we carried with us.

And loading the C5 Touring up is its raison d’être.

With a low and wide floor (whose height can be altered via the suspension switch, remember), lavishly carpeted and featuring tie hooks, a cargo cover blind, power outlets and even netting to keep little things from flying about, the Citroen makes for a fine family car conveyance.

Just press a button on the key fob and the tailgate rises to receive your goods, while a push of another on the door itself gently brings everything to a close.

Another handy feature fitted to the test car was a retractable floor-to-ceiling room divider that folded flush with the split rear backrests.

A trio of baby anchor points are located on the ceiling, which might be a little inconvenient as the tether straps may eat into the cargo area, but at least Citroen has placed them quite close to the rear seats.

Moving forward, the rear cabin is quiet for a wagon, and spacious enough for the C5 to offer proper transport for two taller folk back there or three smaller ones.

The deep rear bench is surprisingly comfortable – if you are one of the outboard-sited passengers who get to enjoy face-level vents, the inevitable grab handles, a small storage compartment, a folding centre armrest and a pullout set of cupholders.

Plonking a hapless rider in the middle means the last two items vanish, as does the rear seat’s load through cubbyhole facility that allows long items such as a broom to spill in from the cargo area and into the cabin between the rear seats.

Citroen has always designed good front seats, and the C5 Exclusive’s are no exception.

Not too firm yet amply supportive, the driver’s pew places the person exactly where he or she needs to be, backed up by a variable amount of lumbar support.

There is also sufficient adjustment in every direction, including enough room for long-legged types to feel comfortable. The same also goes for the passenger’s front seat.

However, the dashboard – though solid and quite interesting with its many and varied controls – is let down by haphazard design which oscillates between intriguing and disappointing.

Good stuff first: we love the instrumentation’s appealing mix of analogue and digital, set within a colourful trio of dials, and with the middle one offering a handy speed readout to supplement the speedometer. This is a lesson in clarity.

Other plus points include clap-hand wipers that cover a large area, the electronic park brake’s ability to be deactivated without having to fiddle around with a lever, a great stereo, and a myriad of hidden storage areas, including a deep centre console.

We also found the ventilation system simple and effective, while the steering wheel’s grained metal trim inserts – mirrored on the dash top – lift the cabin considerably.

But we kept striking the wheel’s fixed centre hub during certain turning angles. Yes, it makes sense having the excellent cruise control and speed limiter functions as well as with the handy remote audio switches and thumb scrollers static in one position, and the overall effect looks superb, but Citroen might have to make the actual hub area smaller, or less protruding.

However, a lower centre console area that looks far too cheap and old-fashioned for this modern Frenchy overshadows this. Probably the latest C5’s most obvious link to the Peugeot, the finish is not up to the marque’s prestige aspirations either.

Worse still, the matching LED window above the quite useless lidded tray on the upper centre console area employs ugly low-fi graphics, while there is a piece of horizontal metallic trim that for reasons unknown kinks upwards right in front of the passenger.

If we could pick the parts we like on the C5’s dash, we’d take the driver’s side and throw away everything else.

We’d also keep our Exclusive’s cornering lights, amusing massaging driver’s seat and mood lighting, which gives the footwell area the air of an old Chinese opium den.

Which sums up the whole C5 Exclusive Tourer experience in a nutshell – exotic, a tad numb in its feel and ultimately relaxing, but you do pay a hefty price for it.

In a strange twist, the C5 Tourer lags behind many cheaper mainstream competitors but shines bright against far costlier premium and luxury contenders. Go figure!

But don’t let your head put you off a model that does plenty to please the heart: the Citroen has more than enough talent, features and practicality to provide years of happy motoring, particularly if you are partial to the chevron brand.

And the Touring 2.0 HDi Exclusive is probably the best C5 of the lot – simply because of what’s hanging off at the end.

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